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Health Care Opens Up

The modern health care organization now faces a classic challenge: The rate of change outside the organization is outpacing the rate at which the organization is able to change internally.
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Open innovation is not new, but it is relatively new to health care, igniting a broad cross-section of challenges, hackathons, and competitions that seek to identify breakthrough solutions to solve for our health and our health care. By applying the best practices of the leading tech accelerators, these programs accelerate the speed at which new solutions are developed, companies are formed, and jobs are created.

To quote Todd Park, CTO of the United States of America, "There has never been a better time to be an entrepreneur at the intersection of health care and IT." And there has never been a better time, or industry, for open innovation, a game where no one loses. Open innovation is good for the sponsoring organization, good for the innovator, good for the patient, and good for America.

Good for the Sponsoring Organization

The modern health care organization now faces a classic challenge: The rate of change outside the organization is outpacing the rate at which the organization is able to change internally. Policy change, the increase in mobile penetration rates, access to unique data sets, and the consumerization of health technology all contribute to a growing need to tap the collective intellect of the innovation community to identify new products and solutions to transform health and health care. Open innovation challenges present a novel means of doing just that, identifying and harvesting talent from a diverse group of solvers that includes the edges of a system -- often where the most unique perspectives and freshest ideas reside -- leading to truly novel innovations.

Good for the Innovator

Built for speed and entrepreneurship, the most successful open innovation challenges shepherd the strongest teams through an iterative process to strengthen the solution. Sponsoring organizations are increasingly offering participants access to accelerator programs, education, mentorship, and even real customers -- resources that would have otherwise been potentially unattainable -- all provided in a safe environment where testing and failure is de rigeur.

Innovators also benefit from dynamic collaboration, exchanging ideas and approaches with their fellow competitors throughout the program. Such is the case of The Sanofi US Open Innovation Challenge: Data Design Diabetes, which fosters a supportive microcosm throughout the virtual accelerator, providing competing teams with a chance to step outside the competitive atmosphere to openly engage with real patients and with each other.

Last, but not least, open innovation challenges typically boast enticing awards of non-dilutive capital ranging from a few thousand dollars to $500,000 or more, ultimately replacing the need to raise a seed round. Even more attractive, the rise in popularity of challenges such as the current Under Armour challenge, which allows innovators to maintain their IP.

Good for the Patient

As solvers scramble to stay atop of the latest technology or APIs, it is easy to forget the common goal: to improve health and health care. Or rather, our health and health care. Open innovation challenges tend to favor patient-centricity, placing the beneficiary of innovation at the center of the ask.

This approach also introduces a new solver: the patient. Increasingly, patients and caregivers are drawing on their first-hand experience, regardless of their educational or professional backgrounds.

An increase in solvers accelerates the rate at which solutions are presented, tested, and refined. Failures tend to occur more rapidly, and the learnings result in speed to market for the strongest solutions that improving human life.

Good for America

In 2011, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act granted all federal agencies the right to use prizes and challenges to spur innovation, solve tough problems, and advance their core missions, as well as the ability to partner with the private sector to do so.

This brings to light one of the lesser noted benefits of a well-constructed innovation challenge: the ability to stimulate the marketplace, resulting in company formation and job growth in high-growth sectors, and ultimately, the American economy.

The Merck | Heritage Provider Network Innovation Challenge is currently underway. The sponsors have called on entrepreneurs, data scientists, designers, health care providers, and big thinkers to create the products or services that will support patients with diabetes and/or heart disease in adhering to their care plans and ultimately improving health. Semi-finalists will be announced on November 21st. Check out their progress and other open innovation challenges by visiting Health Data Challenges.


This blog series is produced in partnership with Health Data Challenges, creators of The Health Data Challenge Series, a formal initiative of the Health Data Consortium, powered by Luminary Labs. The platform seeks to foster the use of data to drive innovation that will ultimately transform health and healthcare through high-stakes innovation challenges. Learn more at

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